MunozHepCState Senator Tony Munoz joins colleagues in Springfield this week for the first Hepatitis C task force hearing.

This task force, made up of not just lawmakers but also health care professionals and other key stakeholders, was formed with the goal of raising public awareness of the Hepatitis C virus among Illinois residents.   “The Hepatitis C infection brings with it a certain stigma,” Munoz said. “Currently, 75 percent of people who are infected with Hepatitis C are unaware they have the virus. That is why our main goal is to provide information, inform the public about the disease and urge people to get tested.”

The Hepatitis C virus most commonly affects members of the Baby Boomer generation, according to Dr. Toyin Adeyemi, a doctor of infectious disease at Cook County Health and Hospitals System and a task force member.

Hepatitis C, which adversely affects the liver, can be contracted through intravenous drug use, unsanitary tattooing and sexual intercourse. Before 1992, some patients contracted the virus from blood transfusions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2011, 16,500 cases of Hepatitis C infection were reported in the United States, representing a 44 percent increase compared to the year before, according to the CDC. In 2010 the CDC estimated 3.2 million people in the country were infected.

Once detected, Hepatitis C can be cured within 12 weeks with a 90 percent effectiveness rate. However, if not detected early, subsequent health complications such as liver disease and cancer can lead to death.

The task force is set to reconvene in Chicago in March for their next hearing.

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